The Life of S Thomas A Becket of Canterbury
- ISBN-13: 9781490974200
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
- Release Date: Jul 12, 2013
- Pages: 344 pages
- Dimensions: 0.78 x 9.0 x 6.0 inches
IT ought not to be hard to read the character of S. Thomas of Canterbury, nor to understand for what cause he shed his blood. Ranke, with simply honest endeavour, has comprehended both. Speaking of Henry, he says: "He did not choose to allow the Church freedom of election to high ecclesiastical dignities; he would not permit her excommunications to proceed without the supervision of the State. Not only did he insist on the right of the civil tribunals to judge ecclesiastics for great crimes, which would otherwise have been left unpunished, but in the sphere of spiritual jurisdiction he claimed for the State the right of being the highest court of appeal, instead of the Pope." Of S. Thomas himself the same historian says: "Becket was not actuated by the same unbending obstinacy which characterizes most of the champions of the hierarchy." All this is quite clear and silnple, and ought to be seen by anyone who takes the trouble to study the question. S. Thomas died for the liberty of the Church. It was only after great struggles with himself, with early prejudices and affections, that the saint saw nothing was left for him but to lay down his life for the cause of Christ and His Church. History alone ought to enable even a Protestant to understand at least the momentousness of the issue. Henry wished practically to sever England from the Holy See, and to cripple the spiritual power of the Church-the only power on earth, besides material force, which the king and his wicked barons respected. Now, wherever the Church of a country is enslaved by the State, and separated from Rome, one of two things follows. In a country like ours at this day, which believes in no Church, the State allows the wildest and most ridiculous licence of opinion. In a believing nation, on the contrary, as England was then, the State wields the authority of the Church for her own purposes, and enslaves the intellect and the soul of its subjects, as Russia does now. It was to avert the latter degradation from England that S. Thomas died. Now, really it is not too much to ask of men who write on the subject to see that this was something worth dying for, even though they may prefer the present supremacy of the Queen, and its consequences. Above all, men who profess to write history ought at least to state that for which he did die, and not something totally different, or ludicrously short of it. What he shed his blood for was to prevent England, Ireland, and half France from becoming in the twelfth century what Moscow is now: this was a cause worth dying for. Most writers, on the contrary, and even some Catholics, represent him as contending only for clerical immunity from secular tribunals; which was only the occasion, and a very small, though not unimportant, part of the contest. The worst offender, however-who is most offensive, precisely because, from his qualities of head and heart, he ought to know better-is Dean Stanley. Any one reading his lecture on the murder of Becket in his "Memorials of Canterbury" might suppose that the saint died because of a squabble between the sees of Canterbury and York, and because he excommunicated the Brocs for poaching on his manors and docking the tails of his horses and mules. The Dean's conception of S. Thomas of Canterbury is worthy of being placed side by side with the Becket of the Ingoldsby Legend of the "Prior of Birchington." It might seem invidious to notice what, after all, is only a lecture ad populum, if it were not a type of a whole class of compositions which tend perhaps more than any other to falsify the truth of history. The fact is worth dwelling upon.
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